“Research shows that people who have a high level of self-awareness—who see themselves, how they fit into the world and how others see them clearly—make smarter decisions, raise more mature children and are more successful in school and work. They’re less likely to lie, cheat and steal. And they have healthier relationships.” So begins Elizabeth Bernstein’s article in the Wall Street Journal on the importance of having an accurate view of ourselves.
Granted, I imagine that most of us think we have a fairly accurate understanding of our strong points and our faults, but it turns out that we often overestimate or underestimate our own capabilities. One primary reason for that shortcoming is that self-awareness requires not only a realistic view of how we see ourselves but also an accurate understanding of how others see us. And while the perceptions of others are not always correct, they can still help us see faults or abilities we might have otherwise missed. The tricky part is figuring out whose opinions we can trust.
As Dr. Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist from Denver who has studied the subject extensively, notes, oftentimes the people closest to us—friends, family members, etc.—are the ones least able to give us accurate feedback in this area. They are frequently so close that either they can’t be objective or are too invested in the relationship to risk being completely honest. The ideal person is often someone you know well enough to trust but who isn’t in your inner circle of friends and family. And if you’re worried that they won’t know you well enough to make an accurate judgment, studies show that a stranger who watches a person on video for five minutes can evaluate that person with the same accuracy as a close friend or family member.
None of these efforts will make a difference, however, if our first reaction is to either get defensive with criticism or self-deprecating with praise. To make matters more difficult, those who struggle the most with self-awareness are the ones most likely to fall into one of those two traps. But we’ll never grow into the people God created us to be if we remain ignorant of where that growth needs to take place. Such maturation is a fundamental part of being good stewards of the life the Lord has granted us.
Scripture is replete with examples of how this truth plays out and the fact that God is the most capable source for speaking truth into our lives, if we’re willing to listen. Gideon, for example, thought of himself as nothing more than the weakest member of the weakest clan before the Lord appeared to him and told him that he would accomplish far more (Judges 6). Because Gideon began to see himself through God’s eyes, he was able to defeat the Midianites and free his people (Judges 7).
By contrast, David considered himself relatively untouchable after having defeated his enemies and solidified his rule; so much so that he thought he could take the wife of another man without consequences (2 Samuel 11). When that poor decision escalated further and made him an accessory to murder, he still acted as though he were safe. It wasn’t until the Lord convicted him through the prophet Nathan that he saw the error of his ways and repented (2 Samuel 12). Even the person Scripture describes as a man after God’s own heart, at least in his earlier years, was not above the need for a bit of help in becoming more self-aware.
If David and Gideon, two of Israel’s greatest heroes, needed God’s help in becoming more self-aware, chances are that you and I do as well. Fortunately, we serve a God who knows us better than we will ever know ourselves (Psalm 139:1–5) and longs to help us become the people he has created us to be (Philippians 1:6). The only question left to us is whether we will accept his help.